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Gym Fitness

What Is A Pullover Exercise?

You’re at the gym, doing your standard workout when your earbuds fall silent between songs, and you overhear someone nearby mention pullover exercises. You draw a blank. What are those? Should I be doing them, too? Or maybe you’re a little more familiar with this dumbbell-ladened move. You’ve tried a few yourself, but you want […]

Published: 8/4/22

You’re at the gym, doing your standard workout when your earbuds fall silent between songs, and you overhear someone nearby mention pullover exercises. You draw a blank. What are those? Should I be doing them, too?

Or maybe you’re a little more familiar with this dumbbell-ladened move. You’ve tried a few yourself, but you want to dive deeper into how they work. 

No matter what level you’re at, this is a great place to start. Welcome to our training center for understanding the pullover exercise. Come one, come all—and come ready to sweat. 

What is a Pullover Exercise? 

A pullover exercise, otherwise known as a chest pullover, is a move that involves a dumbbell or barbell and is used to strengthen the chest muscle and/or the back muscle group. This exercise is done laying down, typically on a weight bench, while pulling your weighted object up and over your head.

You can customize pullover exercises to target the chest or back. To target your chest muscles, keep your elbows straight and your arms tucked in close as you move the dumbbell. To hone in on your back, bend your elbows slightly outward. 

The Benefits of Pullover Exercises

If you’re looking to add barbell and dumbbell pullover variations to your upper body workout plan or to build strength, start by learning how they will benefit you. Pullover exercises are powerful, multi-functional, and easy to learn. With one simple controlled movement, you can work your way toward a stronger upper body. If you’re working towards weight training and muscle gain, this workout is great for building upper body strength. With a little patience and plenty of breathing, most people master the barbell or dumbbell pullover exercise after just one session. 

Here’s how dumbbell or barbell pullover exercises can pump up your workout routine:

  • Strengthen muscles in your chest
  • Strengthen muscles in your back
  • Build mobility in the shoulders
  • Help build muscle endurance 

Variations of Pullover Exercises

The pullover, a classic upper body exercise, is effective in targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Below are various pullover variations that cater to diverse fitness levels and goals:

  • Traditional Barbell Pullover
      • Execution: Lie on a bench with only your upper back and shoulders supported. Grasp a barbell with a wide grip overhead, then lower it behind your head in a controlled manner.
      • Target Muscles: Lats, serratus anterior, triceps, chest.
  • Dumbbell Pullover
      • Execution: Similar to the barbell version, lie on a bench and hold a single dumbbell with both hands overhead. Lower the dumbbell behind your head, feeling a stretch in your chest and lats.
      • Target Muscles: Lats, chest, triceps, serratus anterior.
  • Cable Pullover
      • Execution: Set up a cable machine with a straight bar or rope attachment. Face away from the machine, grab the bar or rope, and pull it down and across your body in a controlled arc motion.
      • Target Muscles: Lats, triceps, chest, serratus anterior.
  • Decline Bench Pullover
      • Execution: Lie on a decline bench with your head lower than your hips. Perform the pullover movement with a barbell or dumbbell, emphasizing the lower portion of the chest.
      • Target Muscles: Lower chest, lats, triceps.
  • Seated Machine Pullover
      • Execution: Utilize a seated pullover machine. Sit with your chest against the pad, grasp the handles, and perform the pullover motion while keeping your back firmly pressed against the pad.
      • Target Muscles: Lats, chest, triceps, serratus anterior.
  • Swiss Ball Pullover
      • Execution: Lie with your upper back and shoulders supported on a Swiss ball, feet planted firmly on the ground. Hold a dumbbell with both hands overhead and perform the pullover motion for added stability challenge.
      • Target Muscles: Core, lats, chest, triceps.
  • Incline Bench Pullover
      • Execution: Lie on an incline bench with your head higher than your hips. Use a barbell or dumbbell to perform the pullover motion, emphasizing the upper portion of the chest.
      • Target Muscles: Upper chest, lats, triceps.
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Pullover
    • Execution: Lie on a bench and hold a single dumbbell with one hand overhead. This unilateral variation helps address muscle imbalances and enhances core engagement.
    • Target Muscles: Lats, chest, triceps, serratus anterior.

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How to Do a Pullover Exercise

Now that you understand the barbell or dumbbell pullover benefits, let’s dive deeper. 

It’s important to perform a pullover exercise safely and thoughtfully to remove any risk of injury. If you can, grab a spotter for your first time to help monitor your form and keep you safe. Proper form will ensure you get the most benefit out of pullover exercises. 

Here’s how to perform a barbell or dumbbell pullover exercise like one of the pros: 

  • Step 1. Select your weight – Start by selecting a dumbbell or barbell to use for the pullover. If you’re not sure what weight to grab, start with 20% of your body weight. You can always level up or down later. 
  • Step 2. Find a bench – Lay flat on your back on a weight bench or any bench you have handy. You can rest your head either on or slightly off the bench—whatever feels more comfortable. Stabilize your feet flat on the floor. 
  • Step 3. Hoist the dumbbell up – With your hands in a triangle, hold the dumbbell vertically above your head. Grip the upper edge of the weight with your fingertips. 
  • Step 4. Customize – Here’s where you can either straighten your elbows for a chest-powering exercise or butterfly them outward to target those lats. 
  • Step 5. Pullover – Breathe in, and extend your arms and the weight behind your head as far as you can go without strain, keeping your arms close to your body. 
  • Step 6. Pull back – Breathe out, and pull your arms and the weight back up over your head, resuming your starting position. 

You should feel your chest, shoulders, and back working when doing this pullover exercise. Really focus on your form, and remember to breathe.

How to Get Started with Pullover Exercises

Pullover exercises have a low barrier to entry. All you need is a bench and a weight to get started. You may be wondering, “how many reps should I do?” Begin with about 8–10 reps, and focus on expanding your shoulder’s range of motion in each set you do. 

Once you master the form, you can customize the pullover far beyond a chest and back focus. For example, you can lay with your hips off the bench to add an extra stabilizing challenge for your glutes and core. Or, for even more sizzle, lay on a Physio ball instead of a bench to fire up your whole body. 

When you’re ready, grab a towel, and take these tips for pullover exercise success to the mat: 

  • Start with a small amount of weight and work your way up
  • Keep your breath steady through the entire range of motion
  • Challenge yourself to expand your range of motion over time
  • Flex your chest and back muscles to feel them working
  • Keep your lower back in a flat, neutral position 
  • Don’t forget to celebrate your empowering accomplishments!

Pullover Like a Pro at Chuze Fitness 

You don’t have to be a weightlifting professional to conquer the pullover exercise—but at Chuze Fitness, we’ll still make you feel like one. 

That’s because we have everything you need to feel empowered, welcome, and right at home, like our pristinely-clean and comfortable workout benches. Plus, you’ll find plenty of helpful spotters within arm’s reach whenever you need them. Whether you’re looking to add dumbbell exercises like the pullover or dumbbell reverse flys, or if you want to expand your zone to yoga or other fitness classes, this is the place for you. If you’re looking forgyms near me, use our gym finder to find the Chuze Fitness closest to you. 

Join our community, and have fun building a stronger mind, body, and soul— our gym memberships are always available for an affordable price! We can’t wait to greet you at the door.

 

 

Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.

 

 

Sources:

  1. YouTube. Dumbbell Pullover: Chest or Back Exercise? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YStMv6m2g8
  2. Very Well Fit. How to Do a Dumbbell Pullover: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-dumbbell-pullover-techniques-benefits-variations-4781595
  3. Healthline. How to Do A Dumbbell Pullover with Proper Form. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/dumbbell-pullover
  4. Nutritioneering. Dumbbell Pullover for Back vs Chest. https://www.bodybuildingmealplan.com/dumbbell-pullover/

 

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